J Walking

…it isn’t his real name…and some of the details are changed to protect his identity – his choice of football and basketball teams for instance. Everything else is spot on.

I need to write about him. He is a kid I mentor in DC. He is short and thin and will be in 12th grade next year. He likes football – particularly the Chiefs and the 76ers. I’m not holding it against him. He wants to be an engineer and he wants to own his own business. He is black and his dad has been in and out of prison. He can’t actually read very well. His writing isn’t so great either. But he is the kind of kid you would pick first if you wanted to pick someone you could absolutely trust. He is the kind of kid anyone would be proud to have as a son.

That is what was heartbreaking about last night.

When we got together he started talking about his upcoming mid-terms. He was appropriately nervous – there were a lot of them. A course in French, one in English literature, another in European history and another in geometry. I asked to see what he was studying for his first test in English. He gave me a single sheet of paper with what looked like answers on it – 50 of them.

I looked at him with a bit of suspicion and a lot of shock and asked him what this was.

“It is the answer sheet.”


“For my test tomorrow.”

There wasn’t a hint of discomfort in his voice. This wasn’t someone worried about being caught with the answers. I asked him how he got them…

“Oh, the teacher gave them to us. She put them on the board and told us to memorize them.”

It was surreal. It was every kid’s dream. The answer to a mid-term test? No reason to fear being caught? I couldn’t really process it.

The person who runs the program was walking by and I asked him about this. I told him what had happened and he smiled and looked at me and at Cory and said, “Oh, yeah, ‘teaching to the test.'”

“What?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, teachers do it all the time – they want their kids testscores to look good so they look good, so their school looks good…it is all part of the No Child Left Behind thing about testing.”

I do not know when stuff like this started and find it hard to believe it was just as recently as No Child Left Behind. Nevertheless, it was crushing. Crushing. Teachers giving kids answers? That wasn’t ‘teaching to a test’, that was a horror.

It tells kids that they aren’t smart enough to learn the answers. It tells kids that getting a test score is more important than learning. It tells kids they aren’t good enough and the teachers aren’t even going to bother to try.

Cory was pretty happy though – “I’m going to get all A’s,” he said, “I’ve just got to keep studying the answers.”

Why aren’t we marching in the streets to protest this kind of moral betrayal of our kids? Unbelievable.

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